Many of us who work in libraries or other organizations that serve the public spend quite a bit of time considering, ruminating, talking or discovering how to make better, stronger or more impactful services, experiences and products for our communities. Often when a new product or innovative service emerges (even if it is in a field not directly related to what we do), our thinking can be inspired or refreshed. With the unveiling of the iPad this week, ears and eyes all over the globe were perked and peeled, ready for inspiration. Along with the applause there came some notable criticism of this latest Apple offering that won’t be widely available for a couple of months. What can such an innovation or new product release teach us? An interesting post on 52 Weeks of UX, offers a suggestion: “what if the iPad simply isn’t for the people who are critiquing it?” The post goes on to remind us that our subjectivity can often lead us to believe that every new product (or experience?) needs to fit our own mold of what good means. This is a good reminder. Needs and expectations differ. This is why we do usability testing, observations and seek feedback (from all users, not only experts). Resounding applause or thundering critique doesn’t necessarily mean that a new service or product is a failure from the get-go. Let the people who will use a product or service again and again do the deciding. We can learn and adjust from that. The closing thought of the post is likely well worth the cost of a new iPad (maybe a little more):
Subjectivity, our inability to see as others do, can be a cruel master.
One of the key ways to strengthen organizations is through partnerships. Not only does a strong partnership strengthen the capacity of each partner to do more and deepen impact into the community, it can also help us re-imagine what success looks like. Bringing individuals and groups together can be hugely rewarding. It is seldom easy. But you already knew that, right? It requires a commitment by parties that may not be used to working together. Imagination, dedication and focus are necessary to craft a great partnership. Recently, after meeting a new colleague who works in a field that I am not very familiar with, I asked myself what it would be like to craft a program or service together. How could I stretch my thinking to bring our worlds together? What are the commonalities in our missions? Not long after, I came across A Pocket Guide to Building Partnerships that was compiled by the World Health Organization in 2003. Reading through this guide, I was struck by how similar the language and ideas put forth by this organization sounded to many of the partnership planning sessions or workshops I’ve attended in the past several years. Inspiration truly can come both in the form of commonalities as well as in uniqueness. What agencies or organizations have you daydreamed about partnering with? Or, perhaps even more interesting: what organizations would be the biggest stretch to your partnering imagination?
For several weeks I have been looking forward to a holiday trip back to North Carolina. Amid many visits with family, friends and library colleagues (and lots of appropriately chilly weather and many snowy scenes along the roadsides), I have done quite a bit of library visiting. In fact, I’ve had many more library holiday experiences than retail ones this holiday season. This has been satisfying on many levels. These past several days, what I have seen clearly in libraries large and small is a certain, unique sparkle libraries put on during the holidays. From book and media displays brimming with personality to full-on decorations worthy of remark, the public libraries I have visited remind me of the simple genius and creativity libraries bring to communities. So what are the ingredients behind this special blend of library holiday magic? Here are three that I can easily identify:
1. Heart. This can been seen in the personalized touches that staff bring to even the smallest of spaces created with depth, humor and the human touch.
2. Expertise. From local history to customized reader’s advisory support, there is nothing like the library touch on information and service.
3. Hospitality. Bustling with activity from all ages, the public library welcomes, encourages its visitors to be a part of the experience while still offering a respite from the busy-ness of the season all at the same time.
…there is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good-humour.
-Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
I’m gearing up to head to Honolulu, Hawaii to present at the Hawaii Library Conference 2009. One of my sessions will be all about library experiences, particularly the slant that Boulder Public Library is taking on this broad and increasingly interesting arena through our Pulse Point initiative.
Those that are attending the session on Pulse Points will get a lot of context for this image. What we know is that libraries and places of learning come alive when the people they are intended to to serve are engaged, intrigued or delighted in the process. By creating Pulse Points in your library or facility there is the opportunity to capture the imaginations and genius of both your customers and your staff.
With the Pulse Point initiative, we are really undertaking a way of creating more interesting experiences while at the same time learning much about our capacity to explore curiosity, creativity and new ideas. Flexibility and discovery…all wrapped up in a great branded effort!
I am still learning.
These words have been attributed to Michelangelo and they came to mind when I contemplated this photograph I snapped back in March. It is an image of my grandmother Carrie only a few weeks before her 101st birthday. Her hands had never held an iPod. On a whim I placed it in her hands and brought up the Koi Pond app. Suddenly she held an experience that she could hardly fathom. I realized quickly that this thing I carry in my pocket each day was a thing of wonder. Seeing my grandmother’s 101 year old eyes light up as her fingers splashed the touch screen pond was a delicious moment. My grandmother spends her days quietly in her chair by the window reading the books and magazines people bring her. Now here she was moving this digitized water and the fish were responding to her touch. When I remember this moment a flood of ideas come to mind: how we take our little gadgets for granted, how the generations can find new territories for connection, and how the world quickly shifts for some but not all.
Only a few days ago I put this picture into a slidedeck for a presentation I’ll be doing soon. ALA conference attendees who will be participating in the “Punch it up with Pictures” preconference will hear me talk about how a picture can open up a world of stories. As you can guess, this will be an image I’ll be using for sometime to illustrate that point.
Columbus Metropolitan Library is showing that important matters should not be hidden. By placing this very obvious, shocking screen right out front before you can access their Web page, there is no denying that this library wants you to know what they (and most Ohio libraries) are facing. Is this an interruption to the library user? Absolutely. Does this speak volumes about the matter and how CML’s level of concern? Absolutely. Libraries can often be subtle. Now is not the time for subtlety. This very unsubtle statement is well worth applauding.
Today I was a part of the webinar The Future of the Library User Experience hosted by Urban Library Council. The webinar featured Nate Bolt, user experience leader with Bolt Peters. A key item that Nate suggested is that in order to be craft more significant user experiences for library customers in the future it’s important that we are aware of 3 Principles:
- Open Architecture Wins
- Build Small
- Behavior not opinions
The third point rang out for me very strongly. How important it is to see actual behavior–evidence–to drive our programs, design and decisions. Nate suggested that we never utter these words: “tell me what you think about our Web site.” This open ended request–used in many circumstances (replace ‘Web site’ with a choice of other offerings or services) can easily open up a can of unactionable input. Act upon behavior–not words. So, to drive home the idea of ‘Behavior not opinions,’ I offer up this quote from Michael Schrage, Serious Play: How the World’s Best Companies Simulate to Innovate:
Behavior change matters more than technological changes. The most intriguing perspectives don’t come from looking at what these new toys can do, but from using them to see how people and their organizations behave.
How about this: behavior. consideration. action.
I’ve been reading through Daniel Pink’s book A Whole New Mind: Why Right Brainers Will Rule the Future in preparation for a webinar later this week. This books triggers a general (and vast) interest I have in storytelling in its many forms. Pink includes a whole section on “story” and refers to a movement called “organizational storytelling” that is really quite fascinating. He briefly profiles the work that Steve Denning helped pioneer in this area.
…Denning discovered that he learned more from trading stories in the cafeteria than he did from reading the bank’s official documents and reports. An organization’s knowledge, he realized, is contained in its stories.
Stories have an incredible amount of power! Power to move people, ideas and organizations forward. This same power can keep us in the dark, living in flux or simply the past. Some of the big players are getting this concept and moving it forward into the fiber of their organizations. Pink mentions 3M, NASA and Xerox. Recently I attended a performance by Laurie Anderson and learned that only a few years ago NASA made her their artist in residence. What an incredible match!
How do we use these stories that float aroud us but perhaps never make the annual report? We know they play a big part in who we are. Are these the stories that tell the deeper truth of who we are as organizations? I’m curious about how anecdotes turn into story and expand into the minds and behaviors of staff and leaders. What are the stories we tell ourselves–about ourselves? A great work is to harness the power of the stories that make us–libraries, nonprofits, businesses, families–who we are, or who we think we are. How do we broaden the story? When is it time for a plot change (when anecdote starts ruling decision-making, perhaps)? There are endless ways to celebrate our stories. Now, what about those stories that simply need an ending?
Today I heard someone say “I hope we’re not playing with fire” in regard to making budget reduction proposals. I’m not even sure the complete context of what they were saying, but hearing this phrase in the scope of what is going on in our economic forecast gave me reason to pause. It does feel a bit like playing with fire. There seems to be something dangerous and somewhat precarious about the state we are in. I do believe that fire can purify and transform, at least symbolically. This is a way that I think about what we are going through right now. When I read Helene Blowers’ post about new beginnings I felt a like mind chiming in. I think that many of our current practices or approaches may have to burn up in the proverbial fire that has been cast. Sincere vision and dreams will be burnished, but not destroyed.
In this past week I’ve become very aware of the fine line that we often draw between what it means to be business-minded and vision-minded. As the economy continues to plan a trip south and we find out what the reality of this means in our local worlds, I think that it can easily be open season on dreamers. Now is not the time for dreams to die. Now is not the time to sell our vision out to fear. This can feel like a tall order, I know. Business and dreams seem to clash in the air. Where is the mix between the two? What becomes our guide? Do we cash in our vision to projections of hard(er) times. Vision that is grounded continues to lead if we allow it to do so. Has the world shifted in the past several months? Yes. Do we know where this is leading? No. Do we need to be really smart right now? Yes. Do we have to forget our dreams in order to be fiscally-minded? No. Business and dreams can exist together. Yes.
I offer up some thoughts to help dreamers make it through the day, into the board room and away from the cliff:
1. Fill in blanks where you can by telling what you know.
2. Create some method to get creative ideas into action (faster than usual).
3. Re-think before you re-write you reasons for being (don’t throw the vision out with the bath water).
4. Keep stirring the dreams in the mix. Stir a little harder before watching the evening news.